National Guard Moves Closer to Staying at Pangborn Memorial Airport

April 25, 2022
Guardsmen on Thursday toured areas they intend to lease and buy from the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority at the airport.

Apr. 22—EAST WENATCHEE — The Washington Army National Guard is one step closer to having a home at Pangborn Memorial Airport and closer to fighting wildfires in the area.

Guardsmen on Thursday toured areas they intend to lease and buy from the Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority at the airport.

A purchase and sale agreement was also hand delivered Wednesday from the port to Santa Cruz Farm, located off the south end of the airport's main runway, on South Van Well Avenue.

The farm's owners want to sell about 14.12 acres to the port, said Jim Kuntz, port CEO, during a presentation to the guardsmen, commissioners and others, following a tour of the Executive Flight Building, and nearby land the guard likely would buy from the port.

The port intends to buy land from at least Santa Cruz Farm to sell to the guard, Kuntz said. The guard then would add more than 110,000 square feet of buildings to house a handful of helicopters, among other things. It would lease space from the port while construction is underway.

"I told them (Santa Cruz owners) what we're doing; they think it's a terrific new investment for the Wenatchee Valley and they want to be a part of it," Kuntz said.

The farm purchase, plus land already owned by the port, would give the guard about 28.1 acres. Another option would be for the port to buy Santa Cruz Farm and Kennedy Trust parcels, at 10.95 and 3.97 acres, which would give the guard about 29.04 acres. However, Kuntz said talks with Kennedy Trust owners weren't as far along and he was unsure if they would agree to sell.

Kennedy Trust owners are Robert and Betty Jo Kennedy, according to the Douglas County Assessor's website. The site also showed Santa Cruz Farm was owned by Scott Blaesing, who bought the acreage in 2019 for $600,000.

Kuntz said he received a call Thursday from Santa Cruz Farm owner about the purchase and sale agreement. There weren't many concerns, but he wanted to have a lease-back option, which Kuntz said could work if the guard was OK with it. Col. Adam Iwaszuk, Construction and Facilities Management Office (CFMO) director, who attended virtually, said he had no problem with the agreement, which would allow farming to continue on the port's, and then the guard's, property until the guard builds in a certain area. Iwaszuk is one of those in charge of planning and implementing the guard's move.

"The target, if we can get them to sign it, is we'll go before the regional port authority board on May 10," he said.

At that meeting, the board would vote on whether to approve the sale agreement. Kuntz said the port will do a feasibility study, in which it usually asks for about 120 days, but the farm owners wanted to do a shorter period, about 90 days.

Another step in the process is to file a conditional use permit with Douglas County, Kuntz said, which would allow the guard to use the land for governmental purposes.

Kuntz said the port will retain RH2 Engineering to have cost estimates made.

The Santa Cruz Farm and Kennedy Trust parcels have potable water, fire protection, nearby sewer hookup and Douglas County PUD electricity. But they also include a 24-inch line, operated by the Greater Wenatchee Irrigation District, running through the middle.

Moving the line was likely going to be an issue because the district usually doesn't want to move lines, Kuntz said. It turned out it wasn't.

He said he presented the plans of the guard moving to Wenatchee to the GWID's general manager.

"He got this big grin on his face," Kuntz said. "Pulls out his cellphone and shows me this helicopter he's flying. He flies for the National Guard. And I said, 'You have got to be kidding me.'"

Kuntz said the general manager told him the irrigation line could be moved, which was "a big deal."

Another idea would be to have Central Washington University set up a satellite for its aviation program at the guard's site, Iwaszuk said. That plan could work because CWU's training center near Ellensburg wasn't as good as Pangborn airport.

Having the guard at Pangborn also would give quicker response times to fires in North Central Washington. The state Department of Natural Resources uses the guard and other agencies to help fight wildfires.

Iwaszuk said he plans to submit a request to receive $30-35 million from the federal government for leasing and the building project this fall, which would be on legislators' agenda in the spring.

The money could come in the spring of 2023, with soldiers moving in the leased space between July and December 2023.

The guard at Pangborn

Col. Adam Iwaszuk, Construction and Facilities Management Office (CFMO) director, said the guard's land would include:

* Three facilities, including about 42,000-square-foot of aircraft maintenance hangar, about 60,000 square feet of unheated aircraft storage hangar, and about 12,000 square feet of operation building.

* 133 guardsmen once a month on weekends for drills. The guardsmen visiting on the weekends might use local hotels for lodging, he said, as well as eat at local restaurants.

* Up to 50 full-time employees.

* 18 part-time medical professionals, who could find jobs at local clinics or the hospital.

* Possible tactical classes and a kitchen, both of which would add jobs.


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